Season's greetings to friends near and far from all of us at Historic Saranac Lake. I hope you enjoy this essay, inspired by both the joy and the sorrow of the holiday season.
Best wishes for your good health and happiness in the New Year.
More than Memory
December 21, 2021
by Amy Catania
This time of year, as snow gently falls over the twinkling lights of our little town, Saranac Lake can seem pretty magical. The peace and joy of the season contrasts sharply with the suffering in the world. Each reality brings the other into focus, and I often think of those who have lost loved ones in this past year.
When trying to make sense of loss, I come back to a little book my grandfather gave me some thirty years ago, The Bridge over San Luis Rey, by Thorton Wilder. The book tells the stories of five people whose lives were cut short by the collapse of a bridge in Perú. The final passage reads,
“...soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”
We spend a lot of time at Historic Saranac Lake thinking about the land of the dead. One photo, one story at a time, we try to build bridges between the past and the present. Recently, a special visitor reminded us how important that work is and what it’s really all about.
Earlier this month, Manuel Benero III visited Saranac Lake for the first time, traveling all the way from Mexico City. His grandparents, Pilar and Manolo, were two of the thousands of people from all over Latin America who came to Saranac Lake because of tuberculosis. Pilar came from Cuba with her sister who was ill with TB. Manolo came from Puerto Rico for the cure.
Pilar and Manolo married in Saranac Lake in the 1920s. They settled in a brick house on Virginia Street, where they raised their two boys, Manny and Joe. Pilar taught piano lessons in their home. Her husband worked at the Troy Laundry and became a pillar of the community, joining the Lions Club, the Rotary, and the Fish and Game Club. He delivered dinners for Meals on Wheels. Their two sons were excellent students and talented hockey players. Both boys went on to serve their country in the armed forces.
Years ago I researched the Spanish-speaking patients of Saranac Lake, and the story came alive for me when I found and interviewed Pilar and Manolo's grown children. So, I was thrilled to meet their grandson and make a connection to another generation of the Benero family. I shared photos and stories with Manuel about his grandparents' time here. Manuel explored the places around town his family had known. We found Pilar and Manolo's graves at the Catholic Cemetery.
We called my friend Diane Seidenstein, and she described her love for her piano teacher. “My most vivid childhood memories are of my time with Mrs. Benero in her house,” she said. Pilar was beautiful, patient, and kind. Over the years, the Benero home was a warm, safe place for hundreds of Saranac Lake children.
Having grown up overseas, Manuel doesn't remember ever meeting his grandparents. But by the end of his visit to Saranac Lake, I think he felt closer to them. Because it’s about more than memory. His grandparents' love is right here — as sure as this little book on my bookshelf, as strong as a small brick house on Virginia Street in the gently falling snow.
Stay up to date on all the news and happenings from Historic Saranac Lake at the Saranac Laboratory Museum!